In Pakistan, flood-affected children get a second chance to attend school
By Zeeshan Suhail
RAJANPUR DISTRICT, Pakistan, 19 December 2012 – Farhat, 14-years-old, sits with a notebook in her hand, awaiting her lesson on a hot summer day. She is the oldest student in her school, and certainly one of the brightest. She was admitted in the 2010-2011 school year, and within eighteen months has progressed to the third grade, owing to her keen interest and eagerness to study. Her father, Ghulam Abbas, is a father of eight and works as a mason in their village of Basti Poly, located in Rajanpur district. He earns an average of USD 3 a day when he has a steady income, but that has been infrequent due to the economic downturn.
Despite being heavily affected by the 2010 floods, Ghulam and his wife believed that the children needed to be educated. Farhat’s previous school was destroyed, and the structure which replaced the school was insufficient for the growing number of students. Social mobilizers met with local community members and realized that there was tremendous interest from girls to continue learning. UNICEF constructed transitional school structures (TSS) in southern Punjab, including one in Farhat’s village.
The devastating floods that hit Pakistan in July 2010 paralyzed the already over-burdened education system. When schools re-opened after the summer break in 2010, most were still inundated with flood water. In areas where water had receded, the school buildings were badly damaged and covered with mud.
UNICEF developed several TSS as an innovative, cost efficient solution to jumpstart the education of children whose schools were affected by the floods. In order to create a learning environment conducive to student satisfaction, high-quality insulated material is used in the construction of the temporary structures and the final approved design provides room for cross ventilation and appropriate light. Each TSS includes child friendly furniture, attractive play material, essential school supplies and introduction of Early Childhood Education (ECE) classes.
During the 2012 flood emergency, TSS were often the only un-flooded schools in the affected areas.
Girls’ empowerment through education
Farhat’s community benefited greatly from the newly constructed TSS. “We want to learn, but there are no schools for girls in our area, and we cannot walk 10 miles to go to a school,” says Farhat. Her family allowed her to study at the TSS after UNICEF introduced an (ECE) class in the Basti Poly government primary school through provision of a female ECE care giver and attendant.Her parents allowed her to continue her education when they found out that the son of a respected teacher from a nearby village was teaching the students. Slowly, the trust of the community increased, and more students enrolled.. Farhat recruited all her friends, who now attend classes in their two-room temporary structure. “In our locality, the elders don’t educate their daughters because they were not in favour of girls’ education. Now they have realized that girls should also receive education. Our fellow students have also been counselled to accommodate us, and respect us, and so we don’t face any problems while in school.”
With community support, children go back to school
Farhat is excited about what the future holds for her. She is adamant about the community’s need for female teachers and child-friendly schools, but believes she will get an education regardless. The school UNICEF constructed for her community has three rooms with good ventilation and natural light, four bathrooms (with a ramp for access by children with special needs), a water storage tank and lots of recreation space for children to play. These schools enjoy much support from the community as well. Many of the schools were constructed on land donated by residents of the villages themselves. The land in one village actually had a house constructed on it, which was demolished and re-constructed by the owner at a nearby location to make space for the school. It’s no surprise that Farhat would like to be a teacher when she grows up, after having been raised in a community that places such importance on education.
Gulnaz Jabeen Khan, Education Officer at UNICEF, is pleased with the progress that Farhat and her community havemade. "The enthusiasm and will of people of Basti Poly to educate their children, girls as well, is exemplary. It is an indication that people, of even such a remote under-served and under-privileged area are now realizing the urgent need of time - education for their children,” said Gulnaz. “It is this will that led the community to donate land, sacrificing the standing crop, realizing that the present small financial loss will form a base for better future gains for generations.”